LINCOLN — Nebraska had a lighter workout than their usual Tuesday scrums.
“It wasn't a walk-through, but it was more trying to get down the game plan and things like that,” defensive end Randy Gregory said. “We're doing a little bit of full speed, but it wasn't crashing into each other and going all out and things like that. We responded pretty well.”
Senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said “guys were a little somber” at the start of practice coming off the 41-28 loss to Michigan State, but were “flying around” by the end.
“Once you realize you're in full pads — if you don't play fast, you're going to get hurt — we realized we had to pick it up,” Enunwa said. “It's time to go, finish these games off.”
Enunwa said NU is “playing for pride” now that it's Big Ten title hopes are out the door. He talked to the seniors Tuesday about finding their motivation.
“You gotta play for your pride, for the name on the back of your jersey, for the 'N' on your helmet, gotta play for all those things,” Enunwa said. “If you just go out here and play lackadaisical, you're going to look stupid.”
Said wide receiver Kenny Bell: “I had a few select words. I think a lot of the guys were feeling the same way. It's all stuff (that's) encouraging. After a tough loss like that, you try and talk to the guys just to make sure everyone's mind's right. It's an easy thing to just shut it down when you feel like you're not playing for a conference championship anymore. But the response from these guys — we had a great practice today. The energy was up. Shows the resiliency of the team.”
Plenty of respect for Penn State
Nebraska's players will take the field Saturday expecting the best possible effort from a Penn State team that they respect a lot.
Bell and senior Jeremiah Sirles were the latest Huskers to speak about their admiration for the character of the Nittany Lions. They praised their upcoming opponent after practice Tuesday, echoing the comments of other NU players at a press conference one day earlier.
“I've got a ton of respect for Penn State, especially the guys that have been there,” Bell said. “That's impressive, to stay through all that turmoil and everything.”
Penn State won't be able to issue the full amount of scholarships until 2016. It's banned from postseason play until then, too. During the months after news of the sexual abuse scandal broke, PSU players were allowed to transfer freely. Sirles remembers hearing that some schools were recruiting on campus.
“The guys that play there, they want to play there,” Sirles said. “They want to play for Penn State and they're going to play their tails off for their coach and their senior group.”
That's why the Huskers are expecting a physical, hard-nosed game Saturday.
“Prideful, tough team,” Sirles said of Penn State. “That's how they've been every year we've played them. They're a very prideful group.”
Anderson excited to play back home
Linebacker Zaire Anderson gets a chance to go back to his home state as Nebraska visits Penn State on Saturday.
That will mean about 18 family members and friends coming to see Anderson and the Huskers play at Beaver Stadium in University Park. Anderson is from Philadelphia.
“It's going to be exciting,” Anderson said. “It's going to make me play even harder.”
Anderson has started three of the Huskers' past four games at weakside linebacker. The 5-foot-11 220-pounder played tailback at Frankford High in Philly before converting to linebacker at Riverside (Calif.) Community College.
“I thought it was kind of easier,” he said. “I was just sick of getting hit, and I'd rather give the hit. So I was just like, 'I'm going to switch and see how it works out for me.' ”
Anderson said he wasn't recruited by Penn State, but didn't really follow the Nittany Lions growing up, either.
DBs learn from Hail Mary plays
Sometime over the weekend, the Nebraska defensive backs saw the play that haunts their nightmares.
That'd be the miracle touchdown Auburn scored on fourth-and-18 to beat Georgia after two Bulldog defensive backs collided while going for the interception. Once they collided, the ball popped forward to a Tiger receiver, who caught it and walked into the end zone.
“That's the worst,” nickel Ciante Evans said.
“That's not a good feeling,” safety Corey Cooper said. “You don't want too many guys jumping for the ball. You want one guy jumping while the other guy's boxing out.”
Evans said the play was similar to when he and former Husker safety Daimion Stafford collided going for a ball against Wisconsin in 2011. Badger wide receiver Nick Toon caught the ball after neither Evans nor Stafford could.
“In the moment, you can't blame defensive backs for tying to make a play on the ball like the coaches are telling them to,” Evans said. “It's football. Things like that happen.”
Cooper said the Husker defensive backs didn't talk about the Auburn-Georgia play. But they discussed Northwestern's mistakes on the Hail Mary. Instead of covering NU wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp in the back of the Hail Mary horde, all Wildcat defenders went for the ball.
Said Evans: “You know you say it all the time, but you never know how the ball rolls. You have to know to knock it down.”
Injured linemen game-time decisions
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said “we're healing” Tuesday when asked about the status of a number of injured Huskers, specifically several offensive linemen.
Beck said Sirles, Jake Cotton and some others will be game-time decisions for Penn State. NU is trying to “get what we can get out of them in practice.”
“Whatever they can do, they're giving us,” Beck said. “And I'm proud of 'em for it.”
Beck said center Mark Pelini was one of those who stood out against Michigan State as Nebraska ran for 182 yards on the Spartans. The junior was making only his second career start because of the reshuffling on the line.
“Mark Pelini played a really, really solid game,” Beck said. “I thought all those guys up front had a nice game. It was good to see that, because we're going to need it again.”
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